Jean Paul Gauci
Setting the New Standard
As a child Jean Paul Gauci (JP) woke up every day to the smell of freshly baked breads and pastries. As early as the age of six JP would help out his father in his bakery which was beneath the family home. Jean Paul’s father’s roots are Corsican and he came to Whitechapel, London with his father at the age of 16 and opened up a small boulangerie in Soho, London. Business was to grow over the years, but it remained small enough for JP's father to oversee the entire operation, winning such prestigious customers as the Dorchester, Savoy and Hilton Hotels.
JP's first trip to Claridges Hotel was at the age of 7 or 8 to deliver bread with his father. JP would watch the cooks as they prepared the sauces with concentration, cut the vegetables with speed and precision and was amazed by the butcher who boned joints of meat clean using the feeling of his hands rather than his eyes. He never imagined that more than 10 years later he would become a part of this exact team of cooks, who trained under Pheolix Saubrand, a chef was a protégé of August Escoffier and trained directly under him.
Jean Paul’s was to attend a comprehensive school and college in east London as he pursued academic studies in Physics, Chemistry, Electronics and Engineering. After the completion of school he swiftly realised that the latter were more hobbies than a career. “The most important thing is you should be good at and enjoy whatever you choose for the future”, once said Jean Paul’s mother and this seemed pivotal.
As a child JP spent more time in the kitchen than anywhere else, cooking with his mother and father for the family. His first big responsibility came when he was twelve years old where he took to cooking the Sunday lunch, which often would turn into dinner depending on his performance! Jean Paul learned many things from his mother, first of all, the love and satisfaction of cooking for others and then the constant road of improvement and learning, fairness and courage.
Thus JP went on to study for a hotel and catering diploma for two years. After this, qualified, he went to work as a commis chef in a small restaurant and wine bar, where, unfortunately his interest in cooking practically disappeared. For the next six months Jean Paul tried a host of different paths, including unemployment.
In October 1983, by indiscrete door knocking he met Gerald Mousinyak, a chef at the edge of his own brilliance who introduced him to food again. Since that moment the love for food became his life, a life that has moments of glory and emotion soaked in sweat, keeping up with a busy service with burned hands, 36 degrees of heat in the kitchen with a buzzing sensation in his head, with concentration and communication throughout. “Six days a week and you still want to cook”, he says.
Jean Paul's time with Gerald Mousinyak had created ambitions that would finally take him to Claridges Hotel in May 1985. During his two year tenure here he worked in both the hot and cold kitchens, later taking positions of responsibility for the both of them. He was able to build the classical foundations of his career in cooking, with the guidance of chef de cuisine Majan Lesnic, who at times in later years would become a consulate for his future.
In May 1987 Jean Paul packed his bags for France and joined the brigade with Gerald Passadat, Chef de Cuisine at Le Petit Nice Hotel, in a two Michelin Starred restaurant with sixteen suites in Marseilles. Here he gained the respect for the beautiful produce of Provence and learned how to make simple improvements to achieve outstanding results. His first post was in the Garde Mange, than cold fish, followed by hot preparation of fish, then sauce, eventually becoming first assistant chef to Chef Passadat. He was responsible, in Chef Passadat's absence, for menus and organisation of a team of six cooks. “Gerald Passadat will always stay in my mind as a natural artist of tastes with no limitations to achievement”, states Jean Paul on a man who has clearly put the direction into his career.
August of 1988 saw Jean Paul move to Paris and to the three Michelin starred Lucas Carton to study in the kitchen of Alain Senderence, who, in the mouths of many at the time had surpassed excellence. A Chef who had found his philosophy of cooking that had to be followed perfectly without questions. While at Lucas Carton Jean Paul worked in boulangere where he made breads, pastries and chocolates for the restaurant. After six months he moved to the garde mange and the sauce sections, finally going on to be responsible for the specialities of Alain Senderence which were duck and foie gras.
On his days off Jean Paul would go to the Hotel de Crillon where he took an estage under Mr Constance, where, “I felt proud and fortunate to be a witness to such grand cuisine in one of the finest hotels in Paris”.
In May 1990 Jean Paul made a pivotal move in his life, he came to Hong Kong. “I was impressed”, he says. But he was heading for Japan and Hong Kong would wait for Jean Paul. On his way to Japan he had a stop over in Taiwan to aid with the opening of the Sherwood Hotel in Taipei. He was to concentrate on the grill room operation. With a team of sixteen they achieved great highs in a short space of time. But, in Jean Paul's own words, “I still had a lot to learn about cooking in Asia”.
Under Japanese Chef Hiroyuke Sakai (otherwise known as “The Iron Chef”), Jean Paul started his tenure in Tokyo. He was taught the Japanese way of preparation and presentation with consistency and clarity. As chef tournant in a kitchen of twenty three all Japanese cooks he found himself constantly under the spotlight leaving no room for error. He was given every task from the polishing of plates, cutting of meats and fish, garde mange, organisation, sauces to the creation of new dishes and the planning of new menus.
On his time in Tokyo Jean Paul surmises,” One of the most important influences of this kitchen was the calmness during the busiest moments of service, at the start it was like being in an aeroplane that never took off. Mr Sakai was a very artistic chef equally in taste as in preparation and I was greatly influenced by my experience in La Rochelle”. So, Hong Kong beckoned and Jean Paul responded. In July 1992 he returned and took over as the chef of an Italian restaurant while the chef was on vacation.
“I found I was very comfortable with the simplicity of Italian cooking which took me back to my youth with my family's' unsophisticated and wholesome cooking”. From the Italian restaurant Jean Paul went on the Park Lane Hotel in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. Here his own style of cooking, born of past experiences had developed and became the style of Parc 27. With the help of loyal and open-minded teams Jean Paul was able to exercise and improve his skills in professional kitchen management, an important part of any recipe.
Over time Jean Paul worked his way up the ladder culminating in becoming Executive Sous Chef before leaving the hotel to open his own restaurant.
In the autumn of 1994 Jean Paul opened his first of many restaurants Casa Lisboa in the SoHo District of Hong Kong Island. On the back of the success of Casa Lisboa, Jean Paul next turned his attentions to Club Casa Nova in 1995. A chic Italian night club and restaurant in the same SoHo area where he was to make his name synonymous with fine dining in Hong Kong.
In the winter of 1996, Jean Paul turned his acute knowledge of French dining and twisted it to fit into traditional Vietnamese cooking by opening Cafe Au Lac. Using simple and fresh ingredients Jean Paul turned a cuisine that was not so well known in the area into a popular and bustling restaurant.
Right after the handover of Hong Kong back to China in 1997, Jean Paul turned his attention from cooking with fresh ingredients to supplying the freshest ingredients so people could sample just what he was cooking with in his restaurants. Thus, Euromart was born. A continental convenience store selling everything the homesick Westerner from German soap to Italian sausages to British toiletries. Being situated in the SoHo area again and close to where most “trendy” Westerners were living made Euromart a great success.
Not long after the birth of Euromart, Jean Paul switched his attention back to Italy and opened Giovannis, an Italian restaurant with the help of renown Italian Chef, Piantanlda Giovanni. The restaurant was situated at the rear of Jean Pauls very first restaurant Casa Lisboa and was his second foray into the world of Italian dining.
In June of 1998, Jean Paul opened what was, arguably his most famous restaurant in Hong Kong, Cubana. A lively fun place again in SoHo with live Latino music, Cuban chefs and partying until the wee hours of the morning. Specializing in Mojitos and Caipirinhas, the mood was always upbeat and the tapas style food meant there were always queues to get in for dinner in the evenings.
With the trend of Western service complimenting Eastern food taking place in Hong Kong in 1998, Jean Paul opened a North Eastern Chinese style restaurant in SoHo to cater to growing number of affluent residents in the area wanting something better than your average Chinese Restaurant. Thus, Bistro Manchu was conceived and placed in the heart of the district well known for primarily Western food. Combining an Ethnically Influenced style of nostalgia with a tongue in cheek evocation of modern China, Jean Paul set about changing the way people perceived Chinese food and made it more readily available to those in the area. Thus Hong Kong's first boutique Chinese restaurant was born.
As if Jean Paul did not have enough on his plate already he decided in late 1998 and early 1999 to go back to his roots and opened two more French restaurants, the cuisine of which has been the foundation of his success. First came Cafe Noir, a French cafe, which was swiftly followed by what could be called Jean Pauls forte, a fine dining French restaurant named La Belle Epoque. Jean Paul and Michelin Starred chef and friend Raymuncho Courde created some of SoHo's finest French cooking.
People travel from all over Hong Kong to experience the gastronomical food and exquisite service that all the hard word has endeared to.
After a year of working hard on his new restaurants Jean Paul switched his attention back to Hong Kong Island and opened Indigo, a Caviar and Oyster restaurant in SoHo, in 2001. Bringing gourmet products from around the world, Indigo was Soho’s main fine dining restaurant and had a name for itself as a delicacy restaurant.
In the same year Rio was opened. Backed by the success of his Cuban restaurant Jean Paul dived head first into the world of Brazilian food. With traditional Brazilian festive dishes and the drinks to match, Rio swiftly became the “in-place” on the corner of the street where you could while away the evening to great food and drinks whilst watching the world go by.
Jean Pauls final two openings came in the early months of 2002 whereupon he opened Bar Picante and The Elbow Room.
Two upscale and trendy places to be seen they has the essential charm and the pulling power to attract Hong Kong's choosiest diners and they loved it.
But SoHo was becoming too conjested and Jean Paul in 2003 decided it was time to channel his energies into just one of his ideas so he opted to enjoy the island life and started focusing his attention solely on Cococabana. With extensive renovations and changes of management Jean Paul has finally reached a point in his restaurant life where he can afford to enjoy life a little more. With Cococabana being situated in Lamma Island Jean Paul can take in the fresh air and the beach lifestyle whist running Lamma's best non-Chinese restaurant and contemplating his next foray into the beach side dining craze that he is so much the instigator of. New projects abound and more restauarant will come. Jean Paul finds it hard to relax, always looking for venue for his new ventures. He is sure of one thing though, he knows what he wants and how to best give it to his customers.
“Today, the food I cook, I try to keep simple. The menus are quite traditional although in the kitchen our techniques are modern where necessary. In my cooking, taste always comes first, followed by consistency then appearance, also taking into consideration the seasons and the ever improving capabilities of the team. A good product with the correct storage and handling will reflect in the quality of the end product”.